Saturday, March 31, 2007

writers' express

I am off on this beautiful spring morning to Writers’ Express, a “full day of useful presentations for new and experienced writers.” If the day lives up to brochure promises I will come away with:
- six ways to grab readers by the throat
- six techniques to reassure editors that I can give them what they want
- seven books and seven ways to promote them
- nine tips for using words that hit the target every time
- five ways to keep fit at my desk
- ten ways to make rejection work for me.

Hopefully, gentle reader, this will also serve some benefit for you. For as Sol Stein says in Stein on Writing, good writing results in a good experience for both partners - the writer and the reader.
Addendum: For an example of a good reading experience read Amanda Witt's article "Distant Neighbors" - on keeping children innocent when lesbians move in - published in the latest issue of Touchstone Magazine.

Friday, March 30, 2007

visual dna

good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over

"Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." - Jesus, Luke 6:38

Who doesn’t salivate at Jesus' word picture of abundance? Yes, bring it on!

But I wonder how often I don’t recognize the abundance I already have.

We have an abundance of food in our freezer and a well-stocked pantry

We have an abundance of books (this bookshelf x about 5).

I have an abundance of clothes.

We have an abundance of good memories in shelf-fulls of photo albums and many more photos in boxes and on computer disks.

We have an abundance of CDs (these are just the ones in my office).

I have an abundance of pens, pencils and paper.

I have an abundance of Bibles (many more than this!)

You get the picture?

I think this "good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over" has already hit me in many areas of my life. I think what I'm needing most now is an abundance of thanks!

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Saturday afternoon driving into Vancouver we again passed the site, in front of the Chinese Consulate, where for five years Falun Gong members demonstrated against the Chinese Government. They were protesting the persecution of their brothers and sisters China.

The city tried to shut down the protest last summer. Thus people no longer sit and stand there 24/7 as they used to. But there are still posters and banners. As we sped by, I caught sight of a woman’s face on a poster, emaciated and bruised, hair a mess, eyes filled with pain. I thought of how much she looked like pictures of persecuted Christians I have seen.

This morning when reading Jesus’ woes in Luke 6: “Woe to you who are rich....Woe to you who are full....Woe to you who laugh now....Woe to you when all men speak well of you....” I thought of my rich, full, accepted life, and what a contrast is the life of Christians in places where persecution is the norm. And I also thought of that Falun Gong protest site.

It was not my choice to be born in Canada – a land of tolerance and plenty. But I do have other choices. One of them concerns what to do about my persecuted brothers and sisters in India and Uzbekistan and Pakistan and China and Myanmar and Thailand etc. etc. Like the Falun Gong, should I consider making myself a little uncomfortable and unpopular by protesting against governments that deal oppressively with Christians and which my country supports with respect and trade? That Granville Street monument of Falun Gong's dedication is a rebuke to me.

At the very least, I know I should pray regularly for my persecuted brothers and sisters. For if I don’t take some of their present woe on myself in this least (and perhaps most) thing I can do – intercession – I can consider myself warned. Jesus said someday the tables would be turned:

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you and cast out your name as evil....For your reward is great in heaven (Luke 6:20-23).

To find out what’s happening to Christians around the world check out:

WorldServe Ministries

Voice of the Martyrs

Persecution blog


The Outing

As you may have guessed, this family photo is not this year’s brood.

Thursday Challenge

Next Week: COLORFUL (Bright Colors, Primary Colors, Clashing Colors, Harmonious Colors, Flowers, Buildings, Cars,...)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

blossom time

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

did Jesus make lists?

That's the question that came to me this morning as I was thinking about the day ahead and the list of things I’d like to get done. List-making has always been for me an efficiency tool or self-check guide to focus me and help me make sure I’m staying on-task. As such, though, lists can easily rule me, making me resistant to serendipity and interruption.

Jesus, on the other hand, comes across as a very anti-list person, the way He drifted from incident to incident – one day in Galilee, another in Capernaum, then Bethany, then Jerusalem – with seemingly no plan or agenda but to do His Father’s will.

And then this morning, just after thinking about Jesus and lists I came to the place in Luke where He made one! Yes indeed, in Luke 6:12-15 Jesus comes to His flock of followers one morning with a list of twelve people He’s picked to be disciples. Though I’m sure he didn’t make His list because He was in a panic, feeling overwhelmed, or wouldn't otherwise remember (more reasons I make lists), I imagine He had one reason in common with mine -- His time was limited. He had lots to get done and needed to focus His efforts.

But there is also a big difference between Jesus’ list-making and mine, and that is what He did while He was making that list: He “continued all night in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12. Now there’s a novel thought – praying over my lists. Presenting them to God and letting Him strike out some items and add others to my to-do list, prayer list, grocery list, list of people I’d like to have over, books I want to read, things I’d like to do before I die ...

I’m definitely a list person, though I must admit that more than once I’ve questioned the lists I’ve made because they so easily spin me off into my own little agenda. But if Jesus made lists surely it’s okay for me to make them too – as long as I don’t forget to invite Him to be part of the process. Oh, and I just thought of a way to shake off the tyranny of any list that thinks it's the boss. I'll make sure that "serendipity" and "interruption" are always on the list!

book review - My Feet Aren't Ugly: A Girl's Guide to Loving Herself from the Inside Out

Title: My Feet Aren’t Ugly
Author: Debra Beck
Publisher: Beaufort Books, April 2007
Genre: Self-help, Youth nonfiction
ISBN: 082530542X

If Debra Beck ever meets the guy who told her, at 15, that her feet were ugly, I hope she thanks him for us. Because if it hadn’t been for that mean remark then, we might not have My Feet Aren’t Ugly: A Girl’s Guide to Loving Herself from the Inside Out now.

Debra’s goal for writing this 130-page self-help book for teen girls was to give them a hand in achieving the self-esteem and healing she missed when she was their age. She begins in a lengthy first chapter that talks about learning to like oneself by doing things like living with integrity, finishing projects, taking care of personal health and appearance, and being a good friend. The following eight chapters relate that foundation of healthy self-esteem to the many other challenges modern teen girls face in areas of conquering fears, risking creativity, maintaining physical appearance (including a discussion of eating disorders), encountering drugs, resisting suicide, dealing with the physical changes that accompany adolescence, and developing a healthy outlook toward sex. She also lists web links to help-agencies in appropriate sections.

Debra’s understanding of and love for teens shines through all the way. From a girlhood plagued with low self-esteem, mothering two teens of her own, and continuing to work with young women in Spirited Youth comes a voice that is part big sister, part mentor, part cheerleader and always encourager. In a warm, chatty style she shares her own struggles, lists fears, tells lots of stories from her life, and through it all challenges girls to be their own person.

The inviting cover, cartoon-type illustrations (by Maggie Anthony - bottom), and Debra’s own occasional lapse into humorous girl-speak (e.g. talking about street drugs: "One big problem is that a lot of them are made in someone’s lab at home mixing the ingredients [a guy probably high out of his gourd]") make the book a lot of fun. It is interactive too with numerous journal prompts, lots of space to write, lists, and quizzes sprinkled amongst blocks of text.

If the book seemed weak in one area it was in the discussion of spiritual health. Described as "moving forward, evolving and growing . . . . taking care of business" the subject appeared little different from all that had already been said about gaining healthy self-esteem on one's own – as opposed to joining with God or a higher being in this quest, which is what I expected to find when I read "spiritual health." However, the way Ms. Beck doesn’t take sides on religion may turn out to be an asset, in that the book’s neutrality would make it easily adaptable to girls of many faiths.

All in all, I would have no problem recommending this book to any 10- to 16-year-old girl – or their caregiver. For as well as providing a great way for teen girls to gain confidence and a sense of who they are on their own, I think the book could be an excellent discussion starter between girls and parents. I wish I’d had it when I was a thoroughly self-conscious and self-loathing teenager.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Isn’t she lovely? This card is another that came from Turkey. Inside are the words: "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. - Proverbs 31:25

My sister-in-law, who recently returned from spending a month in Turkey, forwarded to me a request to pray for the women of Turkey. Specifically she mentioned a Turkish Women’s Conference to be held at the end of May in Antakya. Though Turkey is officially secular with a stated policy of religious tolerance, it is 99% Muslim and persecution is certainly not unheard of.

Even the requests are revealing. Here are some of them:

- For the husbands to give permission and for the children to be provided for.

- For the speakers, worship leaders, prayer leaders, small group leaders, seminar leaders to have the Holy Spirit leading them as they lead others.

- For trust and good communication between workers, organizers, Turks and non-Turks and for the women coming.

- For unity among the churches in Antakya.

- For blessing and protection over the women wanting to come. Some travel quite a distance and some have trouble leaving the home for a few days.

- For women to get saved if they are not.

- For finances for hosting.

- There will be about 85-90 women from outside our city we have to house, so pray for smooth organization.

- For women to get set free from the lies they are believing.

- For the women’s homes to be touched with the Gospel as they return to their settings (some of which are very oppressive).

- For husbands, children, relatives to be touched as a result of letting their women attend.

- For a spirt of life to be our strength and breath as we plan it and give to it. That the women would in turn receive the breath of life!

So if you are reminded – join us in praying for the women of Turkey and this conference.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Friday, March 23, 2007

A Gypsy Finds Jesus - Part 2

part 1

part 2 - as told by Gypsy Smith in Gypsy Smith - His Life and Work

My father was now terribly in earnest. There were a great many gipsies encamped in the forest at the time, including his father and mother, brothers and sisters. My father told them that he had done with the roaming and wrong-doing, and that he meant to turn to God.

They looked at him and wept.

Then my father and his brothers moved their vans to Shepherd's Bush, and placed them on a piece of building land close to Mr. Henry Varley's Chapel. My father sold his horse, being determined not to move from that place until he had found the way to God. Says my father "I meant to find Christ if He was to be found. I could think of nothing else but Him. I believed His blood was shed for me."

Then my father prayed that God would direct him to some place where he might learn the way to heaven, and his prayer was answered. One morning he went out searching as usual for the way to God. He met a man mending the road, and began to talk with him - about the weather, the neighbourhood, and such-like things. The man was kindly and sympathetic, and my father became more communicative. The man, as the good providence of God would have it, was a Christian, and said to my father, "I know what you want; you want to be converted."

"I do not know anything about that," said my father, "but I want Christ, and I am resolved to find Him."

"Well," said the working-man "there is a meeting tonight in a mission hall in Latimer Road, and I shall come for you and take you there."

In the evening the road-mender came and carried off my father and his brother Bartholomew to the mission hall. Before leaving, my father said to us, "Children, I shall not come home again until I am converted"

I shouted to him, "Daddy, who is he?" I did not know who this Converted was. I thought my father was going off his head, and resolved to follow him.

The Mission Hall was crowded. My father marched right up to the front. I never knew him look so determined. The people were singing the well-known hymn ––

"There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins,
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains."
The refrain was, " I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me."

As they were singing, my father's mind seemed to be taken away from everybody and everything. "It seemed," he said, "as if I was bound in a chain and they were drawing me up to the ceiling." In the agony of his soul he fell on the floor unconscious, and lay there wallowing and foaming for half an hour.

I was in great distress, and thought my father was dead, and shouted out, "Oh dear, our father is dead!"

But presently he came to himself, stood up and, leaping joyfully, exclaimed, "I am converted!" He has often spoken of that great change since. He walked about the hall looking at his flesh. It did not seem to be all quite the same colour to him. His burden was gone, and he told the people that he felt so light that if the room had been full of eggs he could have walked through and not have broken one of them.

I did not stay to witness the rest of the proceedings. As soon as I heard my father say, "I am converted," I muttered to myself, "Father is converted; I am off home." I was still in utter ignorance of what the great transaction might mean.

When my father got home to the waggon that night he gathered us all around him. I saw at once that the old haggard look that his face had worn for years was now gone, and, indeed, it was gone for ever. His noble countenance was lit up with something of that light that breaks over the cliff-tops of eternity. I said to myself in wonderment, "What marvellous words these are –– 'I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me.'"

My father's brother Bartholomew was also converted that evening, and the two stopped long enough to learn the chorus, and they sang it all the way home through the streets.

Father sat down in the waggon, as tender and gentle as a little child. He called his motherless children to him one by one, beginning with the youngest, my sister Tilly. "Do not be afraid of me, my dears. God has sent home your father a new creature and a new man." He put his arms as far round the five of us as they would go, kissing us all, and before we could understand what had happened he fell on his knees and began to pray.

Never will my brother, sisters, and I forget that first prayer. I still feel its sacred influence on my heart and soul; in storm and sunshine, life and death, I expect to feel the benediction of that first prayer.

There was no sleep for any of us that night. Father was singing, "I do believe, I will believe, that Jesus died for me," and we soon learnt it too. Morning, when it dawned, found my father full of this new life and this new joy.

He again prayed with his children, asking God to save them, and while he was praying God told him he must go to the other gipsies that were encamped on the same piece of land, in all about twenty families.

Forthwith he began to sing in the midst of them, and told them what God had done for him. Many of them wept. Turning towards his brother Bartholomew's van he saw him and his wife on their knees. The wife was praying to God for mercy, and God saved her then and there.

The two brothers, Bartholomew and my father, then commenced a prayer meeting in one of the tents, and my brother and eldest sister were brought to God. In all thirteen gipsies professed to find Christ that morning.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Gypsy Finds Jesus - Part 1

I find stories of how people come to Jesus fascinating. I discovered one yesterday in the research I am doing for an article on Gypsy Smith (who became an evangelist in England and later America; he lived at the same time as William Booth and Charles Spurgeon). It is of the conversion of his father, Cornelius.

I’m going to share it on here. First I’ll give some background, and then tell the story in Gypsy Smith’s own words in two parts (though it's even too long for that), pieced together from an online book Gypsy Smith - His Life and Work by Himself (first printed in 1901).

Rodney (Gypsy) Smith was born in England of Gypsy parents Cornelius Smith and Mary Welch, the fourth of their five living children. One day when he was quite young, his oldest sister became sick. The family drove their wagon to the doctor in the nearest town but when he stepped out to have a look, immediately recognized small pox and sent the family out of town.

Cornelius set up a tent for his wife and healthy children in an isolated laneway, then drove the wagon further down the path and spent the next weeks nursing his sick child. The mother prepared food for the two every day and left it midway between the two sites. But she was distraught at not being able to look after her little girl and each day came closer to the infected wagon. One day she must have come too close, for shortly after she became ill herself and eventually died. The grief-stricken father then had to bury his wife and do his best to carry on, mothering and fathering his five young children. We take up the story here as told by Gypsy Smith:

The wild man in my father was broken forever. My mother’s death wrought a moral revolution in him. As he had promised to her, he drank much less, he swore much less, and he was a good father to us. When my mother died, he had made up his mind to be a different man, and as far as was possible in his own strength he had succeeded. But his soul was hungry for he knew not what, and a gnawing dissatisfaction that nothing could appease or gratify was eating out his life.

For years my father had greatly added to his ordinary earnings by fiddling to the dancers in the public-houses at Baldock, Cambridge, Ashwell, and elsewhere. Even after my mother’s death, though his fiddling led him into great temptations, my father continued this practice.

All this time, while my father was living this life of fiddling and drinking and sinning, he was under the deepest conviction. He always said his prayers night and morning and asked God to give him power over drink, but every time temptation came his way he fell before it. He was like the chaff driven before the wind. He hated himself afterwards because he had been so easily overcome. He was so concerned about his soul that he could rest nowhere. If he had been able to read the Word of God, I feel sure, and he, looking back on those days feels sure, that he would have found the way of life.

His sister and her husband, who had no children, came to travel with us. She could struggle her way through a little of the New Testament, and used to read to my father about the sufferings of Christ and His death upon the tree for sinful men. She told my father it was the sins of the people which nailed him there, and he often felt in his heart that he was one of them.

I have seen my father when we children were in bed at night, and supposed to be asleep, sitting over the fire, the flame from which was the only light. As it leapt up into the darkness it showed us a sad picture. There was father, with tears falling like bubbles on mountain streams as he talked to himself about mother and his promise to her to be good. He would say to himself aloud, “I do not know how to be good,” and laying his hand upon his heart he would say, “I wonder when I shall get this want satisfied, this burden removed.”

One morning we had left Luton behind us. My eldest sister was in the town selling her goods, and my father had arranged to wait for her on the roadside with our waggon. When our waggon stopped my father sat on the steps, wistfully looking towards the town against the time of his daughter’s return and thinking, no doubt, as he always was, of my mother and his unrest. Presently he saw two gypsy waggons coming towards him and when they got near he discovered to his great delight that they belonged to his brothers Woodlock and Bartholomew. Well do I remember that meeting. The brothers were as surprised and delighted to meet my father as he was to meet them.

The three men sat on the bank holding sweet fellowship together, and the two wives and the children of the three families fathered around them. Soon my father was talking about the condition of his soul. Said he to Woodlock and Bartholomew, “Brothers, I have a great burden that I must get removed. A hunger is gnawing at my heart. I can neither eat, drink, nor sleep. If I do not get this want satisfied, I shall die!”

And then the brothers said, “Cornelius, we feel just the same. We have talked about this to each other for weeks.”

As the brothers talked they felt how sweet it would be to go to God's house and learn of Him, for they had all got tired of their roaming life. My father was on the way to London, and fully resolved to go to a church and find out what it was his soul needed. The three brothers agreed to go together, and arranged to take in Cambridge by the way.

They drove their waggon to the Barnwell end of the town, where there was a beer-shop. The three great big simple men went in and told the landlady how they felt. It is not often, I feel sure, that part of a work of grace is carried on in a beer-shop, and with the landlady thereof as an instrument in this Divine work. But God had been dealing with the landlady of this beer-house. When the brothers spoke to her she began to weep, and said, "I am somewhat in your case, and I have a book upstairs that will just suit you, for it makes me cry every time I read it." She brought the book down and lent it to the brothers to read.

They went into the road to look after their horses. A young man who came out of the public-house offered to read from the book to them. It was "The Pilgrim's Progress." When he got to the point where Pilgrim's burden drops off as he looks at the cross, Bartholomew rose from his seat by the wayside and excitedly walking up and down, cried, "That is what I want, my burden removed. If God does not save me I shall die!" All the brothers at that moment felt the smart of sin, and wept like little children.

On the Sunday the three brothers went to the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Fitzroy Street, Cambridge, three times. In the evening the Rev. Henry Gunns preached. Speaking of that service, my father says: "His points were very cutting to my soul. He seemed to aim directly at me. I tried to hide myself behind a pillar in the chapel, but he, looking and pointing in that direction, said, "He died for thee!"

“The anxious ones were asked to come forward, and in the prayer-meeting the preacher came to where I was sitting and asked me if I was saved. I cried out, ‘No; that is what I want.’ He tried to show me that Christ had paid my debt, but the enemy of souls had blinded my eyes and made me believe that I must feel it and then believe it, instead of receiving Christ by faith first. I went from that house of prayer still a convicted sinner, but not a converted one."

To be continued...


Green Seen

Next Week: SPRING (Budding Trees, Birds, Sunny Days, Baby Animals, Mud Puddles, Spring Cleaning, Bouncy, Thermal Spring,...)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

el nino spring

Worn out from all the push and bluster
trees lean wearily northeast
or lie broken and surrendered
across limb-strewn streets.
Drains are clogged with stubble of pine
hair of cedar. Curbs catch
once nubile catkins, fugitive leaves
pink drifts of downed petals.

My poor crocuses
who faithfully held high
fistfuls of closed buds
hoping one day soon to pay
bright homage to the sun
conquered and crushed
on soggy ground.
Enough already!
- Copyright 2003 - V. Nesdoly

It's been that kind of spring again this year. Lots of blustery winds. But we'll gladly take Spring anyway -- no matter how she arrives. HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SPRING!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I love my kitchen window. It’s over the sink and since we got rid of our dishwasher I spend a fair bit of time there.

That window looks out into our small backyard and the garden, which always lifts my spirit at this time of year because of the primulas.

That garden is where most of my primulas end up. After they have finished putting on their show in various other places I have, over the years, dug them into shady spots between perennials where they languish through the summer with not a hint of their previous glamour.

But come spring, my how their nondescript greenery changes.

They’re in their prime now – clumps of yellow, pink, red, royal and orange, brightening my waterlogged plot and giving me a very cheery distraction from the dishes.

Monday, March 19, 2007

an opposite spirit

Meekness is the character trait of a strong person who is continually surrendering his or her rights to God. Jesus was the perfect example of meekness, for as He said, he did nothing except what His Father told Him to do. Jesus was meek when He took out a whip and drove the money changers from the temple, just as He was meek when he stood before Pilate and refused to utter a word to save Himself.

When Jesus said that the meek would inherit the earth, He was telling us His master strategy for winning the war against Satan and demon forces on this earth. God is going to utterly defeat Satan, and He’s going to do it with individuals who move in the opposite spirit to the forces of darkness. We are going to win the victory, but only as we discern what the devil is doing and do the opposite thing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

-- Loren Cunningham, Making Jesus Lord

Saturday, March 17, 2007

promptings' potpourri

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Don’t know what to read? Visit Semicolon’s blog for her popular Saturday post which links to book reviews from bloggers of all shapes and sizes.

Don’t know what to wear? Consider a Faveur t-shirt!

Bryan Atwood who founded Faveur with his brother James explains in this interview on Infuze: “...we look at the verse in Revelation 12:11, which says, 'They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony.' It was our idea to create something where you can share your testimony and you can have a conversation with someone rather than just billboard evangelism.”

Their cool designs caught the eye of Laura Moody, art director for the Museum of Design, Atlanta. She invited them to be part of an exhibit which was designed to show that the t-shirt is the new billboard. As James explains: “They are the new canvas. They're the new graffiti. It's become a whole culture, like you said. It's an expression of whoever you are, what music you listen to, your faith, your likes and dislikes or the books you read.”

In the bio they sent in for the show, the brothers said: "This is who we are. We're a faith-based clothing line and these are expressions of our faith in Christ." That bio went on display, along with four samples.

Check out t-shirt designs. Most designs also contain a link to the ‘lyrics’ - i.e. what the design means.

Don’t know what to watch? Watch nesting eagles - again!

An eagle cam in Maine is trained on a nesting pair which laid eggs on March 5th and 8th. You can watch live streaming video - two links on that page - but limited to 2 minutes. The home page has a still shot that refreshes every 15 seconds. (These birds are certainly rocking and roiling in a storm today!) Hatching comes after about 35 days of incubation.

There is also a blog which is updated about once a week. This post contains a link to a video that caught the laying of the second egg (6 minutes).

Friday, March 16, 2007

and the winners are . . .

Some weeks ago I came to you with hat in hand, asking you to vote for my poem in Infuze Magazine’s “Best of 2006” contest. The results are now up – and “Some Words” made it! To everyone who voted for me – Thank you so much!! The winning entries will be published in Infuze’s second 'Best Of' book.

Let me draw your attention to some wonderful writer colleagues whose poems and story will also be in the book – these are all members of my favorite writing organization Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship:

Claim the Horizon” by Valerie Coulman

One Winter’s Day” by Marcia Lee Laycock

Gasping for Air” by Lorrie Orr (who lives just across the pond from me in Victoria. I love this story!)

Congratulations to my writing friends!

The top vote recipients of the whole shebang were:
- in the poem category - “American-American” by Rachel Holmes
- in the story category - “The Knitting Box” by Jamie Carie

Thursday, March 15, 2007


River Triptych


These rotted pilings at the bend in the Serpentine River (Surrey, B.C.) are a favorite hangout for cormorants. Sometimes they perch with wings akimbo, drying out their feathers. Other times they strike this somewhat haughty pose.

Thursday Challenge

Next week: GREEN (Frogs, Reptiles, Peacock, Grass, Plants, Vegetables, Fruit, Jade, Money,...)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

book review - Renovating Becky Miller

Title: Renovating Becky Miller
Author: Sharon Hinck
Publisher: Bethany House, 2007
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 0-7642-0130-1

The saga of supermom Becky Miller continues in Sharon Hinck’s second novel Renovating Becky Miller.

Becky’s part-time job at the church is now firing on all cylinders. The kids are growing, two are in school and are constantly needing to be dropped off or picked up. Husband Kevin is angling for a bigger house. Yet Becky manages to keep it all together – even finding time to spread her own brand of rescue-retardant on the various hot spots that threaten to flare up at work and home – without letting the knee she wrecked in The Secret Life of Becky Miller slow her down. But if you think the early pages of Renovating are full of potholes, wait till a rambling fixer-upper, Kevin’s Mom, and Becky’s sister enter the picture. The story becomes a comedy of errors with poor Becky lurching from one crisis to the next as she attempts to juggle job, kids, friendships, elder- and sister-care, renovating a house, and her relationship with Kevin.

Again Hinck’s writing shimmers. The style is snappy and energetic with few interludes in the action. Becky’s humorous Mom-lit voice and the suburban setting will resonate with the anyone who’s ever had to break up a sibling fight, practically lives in the family’s van, or regularly looks for favorite hockey socks in the bottom of the hamper.

Hinck uses the same pre-chapter (Walter Mitty) vignette device she did in Secret Life to introduce each chapter’s action. In this book they are all derived from scenes in well-known movies – adding entertainment value by giving the reader a little cinematic trivia on which to test memory. I thought the choice of movies for some of the scenes especially clever (e.g .the scene of Becky and Kevin wading the decks of the Titanic introduces a chapter in which the pipes burst at the new house).

As far as characters go, Becky is certainly the most well-developed. Though she does make many discoveries about herself in the course of the story, she keeps making the same mistakes over and over to the extent I longed to sit her down and give her a copy of Boundaries – or offer an afternoon of babysitting so she’d have a few hours to maybe figure out on her own that she will never be able to fix everyone’s problems. Becky’s kids are wonderful as usual. Other characters like Rose, Judy and Teresa, though entertaining, seemed one-dimensional in their lack of change and self-awareness. However, they certainly do a good job of being the sandpaper in Becky’s own renovation.

Despite the rollicking nature of the book, Hinck does address some serious themes. The matter of others’ expectations is a big issue for Becky as she feels the need to constantly come to the rescue of anyone with a problem and not let anyone down by saying no. Various viewpoints of mothering are explored through Kevin’s mom Rose and again through Becky – who comes across as a wonderful mother.

The role of the church and the demands made by ministry at the expense of family is another story theme. Becky’s personal reliance on her Christian faith to help her cope becomes more prominent as the story unfolds. This was one of the main take-away aspects of the story for me.

All in all, I found Renovating Becky Miller entertaining and well-written with lots of thoughtful stuff sneaked in under cover of all that hammering, painting, multitasking, and slapstick It’s a contemporary fiction experience you don’t want to miss. An Appendix containing a list of the movies used in the pre-chapter bits and a Book Group Discussion Guide round out the offering.


...Envy is probably the basest emotion we have. A direct result of the Fall, it was Satan’s sin....

...Envy defines “good” as “what I do not possess,” and hates the good that it has...

...The problem with envy is that it focuses outside our boundaries, onto others. If we are focusing on what others have or have accomplished, we are neglecting our responsibilities and will ultimately have an empty heart...

...Envy is a self-perpetuating cycle. Boundaryless people feel empty and unfulfilled. They look at another’s sense of fullness and feel envious. This time and energy needs to be spent on taking responsibility for their lack and doing something about it...

...Your envy should always be a sign to you that you are lacking something. At that moment, you should ask God to help you understand what you resent, why you do not have whatever you are envying, and whether you truly desire it. Ask him to show you what you need to do to get there, or give up the desire.
- from Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
Photo: Bald eagle and Paintail ducks - Mud Bay, Surrey BC.
(I know - that eagle is probably not looking with envy, but hunger. Oh well...)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Today I’m excited. Because today I have finally finished (that is the first draft) of Bible Drive-Thru. During my morning writing session this very day I completed the last of 366 daily devotions taking kids through the Bible.

This doesn’t mean that every chapter and verse of the Bible is covered at all. Rather, it is “through” in the sense that each book has at least one reading from it. Also “through” in that it is chronological. This means that the readings don’t take one through the Bible books in the order they appear in our Bibles but (as close as I could figure out) as they happened or were written. For example, readings from the prophets are interspersed within the stories of the kings and the last readings from the Old Testament section are from Nehemiah.

This has been a long project. I first started working on it in 2003. In the spring of 2004 I finished the New Testament section. Two years ago (March 16, 2005) I wrote this in my blog:

“At the moment I am working on a second book of children’s devotions. I started this project about two years ago, after praying for a book idea (up to that time I’d only written articles and stories).

My plans grew from making it a book of only a few devotions, to one for each day of the year plus February 29th = 366. The sheer scope of it discouraged me, however––my vision was to take kids through the whole Bible, extracting lessons from the Bible texts. Finally I completed one third of it (122 devotions) in the spring of last year. It goes through the New Testament.

Since completing that part of the project, I’ve been restless. I delayed doing more work on it, though, waiting for a response on the first part. But I found it was hard to go back to doing just small things after doing book-length. A few weeks ago, I was whining to God about this –– as I’d done before –– and asking him for the fire in my belly to start something book-length and new. Then I heard this: You already have a project. You just need to finish it.

So now, even though I’m going about it all wrong (conventional wisdom says I should have queried book publishers until I found someone interested in taking a look at the finished project, and then written it up) and am still often tempted to wonder whether this is really how I should spend my days, all I need to do is recall my little interchange with God and observe the quiet writing afternoons I’ve been given, to know... I’m supposed to be writing this book.”

Even after that, my dedication to it was on-and-off. I’d write three or four entries a week and then also work on other stuff.

Finally after completing about sixty entries in the Old Testament section, I settled on a new approach. Since I knew I wanted the devotional to fill a whole year, I decided to spend time mapping out the remainder of the book before writing any more. Thus for several hours a week last January to March, I made my outline.

Then came the spring crisis of last year when both Ernie’s and my mothers got sick – and died. I did a little on the book during that time but was pretty distracted. Winding down my home-based medical transcription business last May helped, though.

Fall of 2006 saw me make some new writing resolutions. I decided, for one, to stop being ‘double-minded.’ I would devote my writing time to only this (and blogging and book reviews and a poetry column I write for FellowScript and my poetry book. Yikes - I wasn’t as single-minded as I thought!). I also made it my goal to write ten entries per week. I didn’t always meet that goal but came pretty close. The end in sight motivated me too. That end was reached today.

Now, what’s next for this monstrosity (three binders of manuscript!)? After taking a little break from it, I need to go through the whole thing again, checking on the accuracy of the references, answers to questions/quizzes (there’s lots of interaction), as well as editing for wordiness, continuity, focus, simplicity of language etc.

As for getting it published ... I don’t know. I’ve shopped it around a fair bit but so far there are no takers. The most interest I’ve had is from Creation House, an imprint of Charisma. But Creation House is basically self-publish (they edit, publish and do some marketing, I pay the bill). This is not exactly what I had in mind.

There are other options – making it into an e-book, putting it up as a blog, trying to find an agent who will push it for me. That decision, bathed in prayer and more prayer, will be made in due course. Right now, though, I’m basking in the glow of getting it done!

Monday, March 12, 2007

proudly heretical

The Great Global Warming Swindle - a BBC film that debunks the theory/religion of man-made global warming. It’s a must-see! (1 hour, 16 minutes)

Don't have time to watch? This article from U.K. News gives a sense of what the film is about.

monday mural - the pits

Lenora Mines at Mount Sicker - 1988 (Painted by Peter Bresnen, Halifax, Nova Scotia)
On May 16, 1897 Harry Smith and partner staked the famous Lenora Claim for copper.

This is another of the wonderful Chemainus murals. I love the way this mural continues around the corner of the store. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

More information about Mount Sicker can be found here.

And here is a page of black and white B. C. Museum photos of the copper mining era.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

an approaching storm?

Jesus’ repeated attempts to warn His disciples that He would soon die, His clear reference to a betrayer among them, His heaviness when He went to Gethsemane, the kiss of Judas followed by Jesus’ arrest, the fleeing of the disciples – these things layer on top of each other in the concluding chapters of Mark, reminding one of thunder rumbles before a storm. From the black cloud that looms on the horizon wispy strands of evil have already broken away and are shadowing the sun.

The disciples all fled before this approaching darkness. Despite Jesus’ repeated attempts to prepare them, they never got it. The evil caught them completely off guard. In their vulnerable state they lost all good sense and every bit of stored-up resolve as they were overpowered by the darkness.

I write this in the middle of feeling something similar. Oh, not anything as cataclysmic as the death of Jesus. But still I sense darkness approaching and beginning to encroach.

For starters, the homosexual lobby is now trying to get its claws into the curriculum and hiring practices of Christian schools – according to this article in This after homosexual activists Murray and Peter Coren have already been given “unprecedented say” in developing pro-homosexual curriculum for B.C. public schools as part of a settlement in a human rights lawsuit against the Liberal government in 2006. And in recent developments, the Catholic Civil Rights League’s attempts to ensure that all 60 B.C. school boards will acknowledge parents’ rights to remove kids from classes, on the grounds of conflicts with religious or family values, has yielded only three such assurances (as of January 8/07).

On the theological front, E. keeps sending me articles about the Emergent Church. Wikipedia has an excellent (in my opinion) explanation of the movement. Last night he sent me the link to the Wikipedia definition of the common Emergent buzz-phrase “Missional Christianity.” What troubles me is that, judging from this definition, reaching out to non-Christians has become all about that, just reaching out but with no substantial gospel. E.g.

“The practical out-working of emergent missional living does not coincide with the emphases on propositional evangelism, teaching and holiness found in historic Christianity.”
The article goes on to describe missional Christianity as inclusive vs. exclusive, refusing to create an us-them mentality:
“Within this tolerant atmosphere missional believers seek to enhance the lives of all post moderns regardless of their belief systems or lifestyle.”

I guess I need to delve into exactly what is meant by the exclusion of “propositional evangelism.” But if it means that propositions like we’re all sinners, our sins condemn us to separation from God and eternal death, Jesus paid the penalty for our sin by His death on the cross, believing in Jesus offers a restored relationship with God, Hell is real etc. are left out, then what does this new evangelism evangelize to? What propositions does this “missional” Christianity include?

It’s hard to pin those down because of the variety of emergent hybrids and their widespread eschewing of doctrinal statements of faith. Can one take from the article, perhaps, that developing those propositions is, and always will be, a work-in-progress when it states: “‘missional’ focuses on the church ... contextualizing methods, morality and message to fit the indigenous culture”? Not forgetting, of course that this “contextualizing” is happening within an indigenous (North American) culture that’s allergic to absolutes of any kind.

These two trends – homosexuality* from without and apostasy from within – feel, to me, like gathering clouds on the horizon of our church and nation. What to do about it?

One can be vocal, I guess – blog about it a lot, join message boards, write letters to the editor etc. I definitely think there is a place for evangelical Christians to make their voices heard in the marketplace of ideas. But I prefer, before all that, to follow Jesus’ instructions to Peter James and John just before He left them to pray privately in Gethsemane: “Stay here and watch.... Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.” Because I believe there are battles that need to be waged in the heavenlies, in myself, and in the world with the earthly weapons that do the most good: prayer and fasting -- and before I pull out my 'sword' or pen or any other defense. Too often, though, I’m exactly like those disciples: “Jesus – you’re back already!? What time is it? What's happening? Sorry, I must have fallen asleep again.”

*Exodus International
Living Waters

Friday, March 09, 2007

book review - I Am the Poem

Title: I Am the Poem
Author: Alvin G. Ens
Publisher: Ensa Publishing, with Trafford - 2005
Genre: Poetry
ISBN: 1-4120-5886-4, perfect bound, 96 pages

When I heard that I Am the Poem had won a 2006 Word Guild Award in the "Special Books" category, I was thrilled but not surprised. For this slim collection of poems and essays about poetry by Alvin Ens – a lifelong reader, teacher, and writer of poetry – is indeed a winner in more ways than one.

The book is divided into five main sections titled: "Reread," "Hear," "See," "Imagine," and "Communicate." A short manifesto-type essay heads each section with poems following.

In the prose pieces we see Ens the poetry teacher at work. He lays out for the reader in easy-to-understand language his vision and standard for good poetry. He explains how a good poem should reward the reader even after multiple readings. He maintains poems should be satisfying orally (even when they don’t rhyme) as well as intellectually. Further, he explains how they should paint images and symbols with a fresh brush (including the way the words are typeset on the page), should spark imagination, and should not be so abstruse as to mean something only to their writers.

In the poems that follow each essay Ens reflects, with humor, wisdom and cleverness, on personal and modern life.

Ens’s humor makes his poetry a lot of fun to read. Some of that humor emanates from his subject matter. "Discover the Cow" poses the whimsical suggestion that if brown cows give chocolate milk, black cows must give "licorice juice / and ugly like dandelion sauce." Another essential aspect of humor comes from his ability and willingness to laugh at himself:

"And most of all, golfing helps me learn
to keep my head down
when I swing
and especially when I’m asked
my score." >
(from "Joys of Golf")

Personal poems with their wealth of wisdom about family relationships are sprinkled among the collection. I find these compelling even in their understatement. Who cannot hear the pathos in the first lines of "Rookie Card:"

"you are gone
like a traded hockey player
to reappear on the roster
of some other team... "

and "Commiserate":

"How do we take you
grown child
in our arms
on our laps
to kiss it better
to comfort..."

In "Owed to Irene" he sums up:

            "I owe to Irene
in the free verse of life
a time of rhyme,
and in the paradox
of twenty-five years of two shall be one
the oxymoron
of the lasting moments of happiness.
In the conflicts of life
I her friend and she my peace."

Ode to Irene. Get it? That is vintage Ens – word-play all over the place! His cleverness with words is another characteristic of his poems. Here, for example, are a few lines that begin to dice the concept of postmodernism:

"the very age decries itself
painted into a lexicographer’s corner
as postmodernism
to follow modern
is to fall off the far side
of nothing...."
(from "Post Nonsense")

In another place he grapples with the idea of normal:

"... Normal is
and pleasant;
is below.
does not have
an above;
it is itself
above abnormal..."
(from "In Pursuit of Normal")

Concrete poetry is another specialty of his. Throughout the collection Ens does not shy away from playing with the look of words on a page – as explained in his essay "To Be Seen." His poem "The Vowel" is typeset in the shape of an E, "Treadmill" in an oval, and "Auditory Oddity" uses font variety – bold font, going to regular, then overstrike and finally gray scale till the words nearly disappear from the page – in a poem that tells about what it feels like to go deaf.

Though Ens’s Christian faith is not mentioned as overtly in these poems as in his first volume Musings on the Sermon, its presence is still there in a foundational presupposition way, as hymn lyrics in "The Loop," and the mention of God in "Snow White," "Mud," "Cursed Is the Ground," "Of Parabolas and Parables," and several others.

If there is a fault, I would say it is in the way some of his poems, with their short lines, seem choppy and are challenging to read smoothly, packed as they are with tongue-twisty words:

"In this world of
supersonic jets
the ubiquity
of fiber optic messages
and the contemplation
of intergalactic commerce..."
(from "Scree")

But this tendency, noticed here and there amongst the abundance of fine poems, is an easy one to overlook. In fact it, along with Ens’s ability to elevate the most prosaic activities into poems (like taking a shower – "Rain Dance", watching slugs – "Slugs", getting the wrong change at a fast food restaurant – "Rip Off", and digging dandelions out of the lawn – "D Day") only helps us identify with him as a fellow mortal.

As a light-hearted collection of poems that is both accessible to the occasional reader of poetry and a pleasure to the afficionado, I Am the Poem is definitely a winner in my books too.
(*My apologies to Mr. Ens for not formatting the poems as they appear in the book. I don't have the html skills for that. Sorry. Thanks to a hint from Helen in comments, the formatting is now correct.)

the jewels of spring

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Christmas morning at the castle
Photo is inside Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, BC.

Thursday Challenge

Next week: WATER (Waterfall, Ice, River, Swimming, Ocean, Pond, Sprinkler, Puddles,...)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

living water

Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
– John 4:13,14

You can never measure what God will do through you if you are rightly related to Jesus Christ. Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whoever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it. When once you are rightly related to God by salvation and sanctification, remember that wherever you are, you are put there by God; and by the reaction of your life on the circumstances around you, you will fulfill God’s purpose as long as you keep in the light as God is in the light. . . . It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him.

It is not that God makes us beautifully rounded grapes, but that He squeezes the sweetness out of us. Spiritually, we cannot measure our life by success, but only by what God pours through us, and we cannot measure that at all.
– Oswald Chambers

Photo: Engraving - "Samaritan Woman."

Monday, March 05, 2007

shore pick-nic

Dowitchers, grazing the intertidal flats of the Nikomekl River, Surrey B.C.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

postcard from Turkey

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12

A weekend highlight was spending some time with my brother and his wife on their return from a month-long trip to Turkey. Over breakfast Saturday morning, where Dawn added figs, dates and Turkish delight to our menu of cereal, toast and oranges, we absorbed, second-hand, the wonders of this exotic land.

Ken told about his many bus trips from Antakya (Antioch) to a city by the sea where he worked with a young man, showing him how to make furniture out of twigs and branches gleaned from pruning their orchard. He also told of his visit to a Turkish bath, and of how one Sunday they transformed a coffin-sized cardboard carton into a baptismal tank with a hunk of heavy duty plastic.

They spent much of their time trotting along behind the missionary lady from their church as she does her thing – encourages people, prays for them, but mostly just loves on them. It would not be unusual, they said, to be called out on a visitation as late as nine or ten in the evening. They would walk the twisty narrow streets to the home, where people would be gathered in a dimly lit room. On arrival there would be greetings and conversation and tea before getting to the business at hand. For them the month was an exercise in dying to the comforts of home (no hot morning baths or showers, no central heating, those late evening junkets etc.) and waking up to the power of love.

Some of the things that impressed them were:
- The physical beauty of the people.
- The huge numbers of young people
- The way all these youth are focused on getting a good education but then have no job prospects.
- The way families and friends and communities stick together. Split up families, with members living far from each other, are rare (although some families are separated when people have to go abroad to find work).
- The openness of people to be prayed for.
- The way love opens doors.

I must admit, I am just a wee bit jealous!

Photo: Three Friends - pen and ink drawing on a greeting card bought in Turkey

Saturday, March 03, 2007


Part 1 of the story is here.

We decided to visit my niece, her husband and baby Rebecca at Children’s Hospital this afternoon. This after I phoned my sister, who told me the little tyke is improving but she would be staying in Vancouver till Monday. Her platelets went as low as 10 Friday morning, followed by medication and a platelet transfusion after which they began to rise. Serial tests revealed results in the 50s, then 70s and finally over 100 (normal is 150 to 450). What an answer to prayer. Thank you Lord!!

We got to the hospital around 4:00. When the unit clerk called the kids out of the Intensive Care Nursery, they told us if we had arrived ten minutes later they would have been gone! It turns out the hospital needed the bed for someone who is sicker, but baby was so much improved they felt they could safely send her home. Since an air ambulance was flying up to Fort St. John this afternoon, the three of them got transportation home that way.

But we did get to see the kids and their little darling even if for only about 10 minutes. Doesn't she look absolutely adorable?

Friday, March 02, 2007


"Often God seems to place His children in positions of profound difficulty, leading them into a wedge from which there is no escape; contriving a situation which no human judgment would have permitted, had it been previously consulted. The very cloud conducts them thither. You may be thus involved at this very hour.

"It does seem perplexing and very serious to the last degree, but it is perfectly right. The issue will more than justify him who has brought you hither. It is a platform for the display of His almighty grace and power.

"He will not only deliver you; but in doing so, He will give you a lesson that you will never forget, and to which, in many a psalm and song, in after days, you will revert. You will never be able to thank God enough for having done just as He has."

– Selected (in Streams in the Desert)

That was the Streams reading for March 1st. For some reason I never read it yesterday morning, but today. And it reminded me immediately of the phone call I got from my sis yesterday evening.

She told me the good news of the birth of a new granddaughter yesterday morning. But in the next sentence said, “They’re already at Children’s in Vancouver.” It turns out the apparently healthy infant was observed by a nurse to have unusual bruising. A CBC confirmed abnormally low platelets. And so this brave family, that I’ve told you about here and here, is again in crisis mode. If you think of it, please pray for baby Rebecca and her mom and dad. And look forward with me to the day when all of us “will never be able to thank God enough for having done just as He has.”

your house

as seen by yourself . . .

your buyer . . .

your lender . . .

your appraiser . . .

your tax assessor . . .

(Thanks Leslie VG.)

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